Beginnings Of Coal Traffic On The Great Lakes -- Extent Of The Coal Traffic A Half Century Ago -- Erie And Cleveland The Chief Shipping Ports -- Competition Between Lakes And Railroads -- Facilities For Loading Coal -- Improvements In Coal Docks -- Modern Car Unloaders -- Improvements At Receiving Docks -- Receipts At Lake Michigan And Lake Superior Ports -- Shipments From Lake Erie Ports -- Freight Rates -- Future Of The Coal Trade.
THE beginning of the coal traffic on the Great Lakes dates from the completion of canals and railroads from mines to shipping ports on Lakes Ontario and Erie, prior to 1850. Occasional cargoes, or partial cargoes, were freighted from port to port as trade might demand, but growth was not rapid. The early steamers on the lakes burned wood as fuel, and at harbors that fuel also was universally used when navigation began. The substitution of coal was a slow process.
Statistics of the early coal traffic are meager and unsatisfactory. Shipments to Lake Superior, however, have been recorded in the St. Mary's canal passages, and the traffic, as shown thereby, was for many years quite unimportant. The movement of coal through the canal in 1855 was 1,414 tons. In 1861, for the first time, it reached 10,000 tons; in 1875, 100,000 tons; in 1883, 500,000 tons, and in 1886, 1,000,000 tons. The total lake traffic is now about 10,000,000 tons annually.
Extent of the Coal Traffic a Half Century Ago. -- Glimpses of the coal traffic of the Great Lakes a half century ago are afforded in the report of J. D. Andrews on lake commerce, to Congress, in 1852.
Coming to Lake Erie the tonnage is somewhat more imposing in volume. Thus Buffalo, in 1848, imported 12,950 tons of coal; in 1849, 9,570 tons; 1850, 10,461 tons; 1851, 17,017 tons. Of the coal received in 1851, 16,229 tons arrived from Erie and 788 tons from Cleveland. Dunkirk, in 1851, received by lake 766 tons of coal.
Erie became an early exporter of coal. Mr. Andrews, writing in 1852, said, "A canal from Erie to Beaver connects it with one of the finest coal regions of Pennsylvania, and this coal being bituminous and of fine quality, is used by nearly all the lake steamers. This causes many of them to put in here, when they would otherwise continue on the direct route, for Erie is from 15 to 20 miles off the direct course from Buffalo to Cleveland. The exports of coal from Erie, in 1845, were 8,507 tons; 1846, 21,534 tons; 1851, 86,000 tons."
Cleveland was slightly behind Erie in the early shipment of coal. A little coal arrived at that port via the Ohio canal, and the construction of a railroad making rail connection with Pittsburg added to its coal resources. In 1847, 8,242 tons of coal were exported from Cleveland; in 1848, 11,461 tons; 1851, 81, 500 tons.
The total shipments of coal from Lake Erie in 1851 were 86,000 tons from Erie and 81,500 tons from Cleveland, or 167,500 tons. This was distributed generally throughout the lake region. The receipts at Buffalo and Dunkirk were noted above. Sandusky received by lake in 1851, 2,745 tons of coal; Toledo, 1,829 tons of bituminus coal and 770 tons of Lehigh (from Oswego) ; Detroit, 30,106 tons; Milwaukee, 2,177 tons; Chicago, 30,000 tons.
Facilities for loading coal on vessels have undergone a wonderful revolution in the past three or four years. The wheelbarrow gang of the old times has passed away. The improved bucket system which succeeded the primitive method has also gone into oblivion. All Lake Erie shipping ports are now provided with from one to four rapid-car unloaders. There are several types of these machines, and all perform a service more or less satisfactory. Their efficiency was amply demonstrated in 1897. During that season perhaps 80 per cent, of the lake coal was loaded on vessels after October 1, on account of the prolonged coal miners' strike during the summer months of that year. By these car dumping machines a speed has been obtained which approximates the loading of iron ore.
It is claimed that the cost of operating a complete car-dumping plant of a kind that is now in use, including the wages of the men, the necessary fuel, oil waste, etc., and allowing for depreciation, does not exceed $40 a day. The plant is guaranteed to load from cars, holding not less than 24 tons each, 3,000 tons in ten hours, and it is claimed that with the ordinary run of gondolas and hopper-bottom cars, the capacity will easily reach 4,000 tons, or in other words the cost is reduced to one cent per ton. A record of 4,700 tons in 12 hours was made at Toledo in 1897.
Improvements in coal docks at upper lake ports can scarcely be said to have kept pace with the car-dumping machines at shipping ports, but work in that direction is steadily in progress. The dock of the Ohio Coal Company at Duluth, was improved in 1897, and is a good illustration of recent progress. It is a sand-filled structure, 1,560 feet in length by 300 feet in width on which both hard and soft coal are handled. Two water fronts, one on each side, are available for docks. Double railroad tracks run through the center. These tracks are straddled by a high trestle. On top of this rest two single-rail tracks, on which are run the large conveyor trusses.
Most of the coal receiving docks on Lakes Michigan and Superior may be described as having a hoisting arrangement, to lift the loaded buckets from the vessel's hold sufficiently high to drop their contents into cars, which run back on trestles and dump automatically, although in some cases the packets are carried over the stock pile. One impressive plant has immense dome-shaped storage sheds, into which the ore is delivered and from which it is discharged by mechanical conveyors. Another interesting feature is a battery of coke ovens at West Superior, in which coal brought from the lower lakes is coked.
Lake Coal Shipments in 1897. -- In his annual report for the calendar year 1897, R. M. Haseltine, chief mine inspector of Ohio, presents a table showing the amount of coal, anthracite and bituminous, delivered at all Lake Erie ports for shipment to upper lake points. Mr. Haseltine figures out a total of 7,997,248 tons (2,000 pounds) of anthracite and bituminous shipped from all Lake Erie ports in 1897. Anthracite shipments aggregate 2,745,130 tons and bituminous 5,252,118 tons, or a decrease as compared with 1896 of 430,592 tons in the former and 513,487 tons in the latter.
Of the bituminous coal forwarded from mines to the lake ports, 3,326,814 tons were from the mines of Pennsylvania, as against 4,337,815 tons during 1896. From the Ohio fields there was forwarded to lake ports 1,355,138 tons, or an increase of 88,103 tons as compared with the preceding year. The Ohio figures represent 25 8-10 per cent. of all bituminous coal forwarded to lake ports, as compared with 21 9-10 per cent. during 1896, 32 2-10 per cent, in 1895, 28 8-10 per cent. in 1894, 46 per cent. in 1893 and 45 per cent. in 1892. From the State of West Virginia there was received at Lake Erie ports 565,166 tons, a gain of 406,449 tons over 1896. This represents 10 ¾ per cent. of the year's lake coal, as compared with 3 6-10 per cent. in 1896, 6 ½ per cent. in 1895 and 5 3-10 in 1894.
Coal Trade in 1898. -- The feature of the coal trade in 1898 was the additional heavy gains made in the lake shipments of West Virginia coal at the expense of Ohio and Pennsylvania fields. The shipments were made via ports in Ohio. West Virginia had the advantage of a much lower mining rate than the union scale paid in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Large contracts for West Virginia coal for 1899 delivery by lake have been made. During the season of 1898 lake coal crowded back traffic from western mines by rail in Wisconsin and Minnesota. making substantial gains for the season.
"Most of the anthracite coal consigned by lake is shipped from Buffalo. Erie, Charlotte, Oswego and Ogdensburg are the other ports shipping large quantities of this coal. But very little bituminous coal is shipped from Buffalo; in 1896 shipments amounted to but 21,000 tons. Bituminous coal is shipped from the Lake Erie ports west of Buffalo -- Erie, Conneaut, Ashtabula, Fairport, Cleveland, Lorain, Huron, Sandusky and Toledo. Cleveland has been the chief shipping port of this form of coal. "In the coal business the ports of destination are much more numerous than the ports of origin. The small ports about the lakes receive not only their own supplies of coal, but to some extent those of the surrounding country as well. The aggregate receipts of the small ports are not very large, however, and so the growth of the receipts of the large ports shows pretty accurately the increase of the business and the shifting of the great distributing centers. Fortunately we have statistics of the receipts at the great distributing ports for a long period of years. Chicago and Milwaukee, at the head of Lake Michigan, and Duluth and Superior, at the head of Lake Superior, are the centers from which the West and Northwest receive their coal."
Bituminous receipts by rail since 1890 include receipts by both lake and rail of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky coal; lake receipts are now very small and are not kept separate by the Chicago bureau of coal statistics. Receipts for 1896 and 1897 were furnished directly by this bureau.
Lake shipments of coal from Buffalo since 1872 are given below, from data furnished by William Thurstone, secretary of the Buffalo Merchants' Exchange. The statement includes bituminous and Blossburg coals, varying from 4,500 to 105,000 tons per year, but the great bulk of the trade is anthracite:
Future of the Coal Trade. -- There is no reason to doubt that the coal traffic of the Great Lakes will continue to increase. The needs of the Northwest are growing steadily, and nowhere in the West are there local coals available equal in value to the products of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The mining operations of the last named State are developing wonderfully, and the coal supplies are practically inexhaustible. Rail competition, fierce as it is at present, must yield to the cheaper cost of transportation by lake.
It was a feature of the Western fuel trade of 1898, that lake coal displaced rail shipments to many points in Wisconsin and territory beyond. During the winter of 1898-99, shipments of Illinois and Indiana coal crept northward into regions tributary to the lake commerce; but this mid-winter invasion was due solely to the inadequacy of lake supplies. There is perhaps no one fact that augurs more brightly for the future commerce of the Great Lakes than this bountiful resource of cheap and splendid fuel tributary to the lakes. After the iron ore deposits of the Northwest pass the zenith of their greatness, however remote that time may be, there will be treasures of coal transported upon the lakes in ever increasing quantities and the development of many important future industries upon the shores of the upper lakes will be the heritage of this growing commerce.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.